All the Light We Can See
The Middle School’s long-running Minimester program gets students out of the classroom and into the world.
For more than 40 years, the Middle School has run an immersive, four-day experiential-learning program—affectionately called the Minimester—featuring local initiatives run by teachers, apprenticeships with professionals in the community, internships with Sidwell Friends staff, and trips to explore special regions and topics. All the options allow students to take a deep dive into a unique topic or culture.
This year, “A Taste of China” allowed students to tour the Chinese Embassy, visit the National Museum of Asian Art, tour DC’s Chinatown, learn calligraphy, make Peking opera masks, cook authentic Chinese food, and watch popular Chinese movies and television shows. “Barrios Latinos” let students explore all the rich Latino cultures in our own backyard in DC, including the new National Museum of the American Latino and the chance to sample the cuisines of Mexico and El Salvador. “Go Green” focused on environmental service learning with visits to local gardens and museums to learn about sustainability, composting, and environmental stewardship. And “Go Wild” offered kids the chance to learn more about animal welfare, from working with service animals and police dogs to visiting shelters and the National Zoo. And those were just a few of the local options students had this year.
For one lucky group of 7th and 8th graders, an immersive arts Minimester meant a trip to New York City, where Middle School Assistant Principal Tray White, art and drama teacher Eliza Bright, and theater teacher Gary Tiller went out on the town with 19 Sidwell Friends students. In four jam-packed days, the group saw Funny Girl and Wicked; visited Air, the massive art installation of alum Kenzo Digital ’98 at Summit One Vanderbilt; hit the Broadway Museum to learn about the history of New York’s iconic theater scene; and visited the Flatiron building, the High Line, Times Square, Rockefeller Plaza, and Chelsea Market.
“It was an authentic and an immersive experience for all involved,” says Bright. “They experienced a special time in their lives: a time of being culturally enriched while having a chance to feel so connected to their friends, to laugh with them, to enjoy the city together with them, to enjoy the culture, and to bond like never before. The care and love they showed for each other was beautiful to see. It was evident how much they appreciate each other's friendships and the opportunities they are given at our School. The trip will always be a beautiful memory from their Middle School days.”
Middle School Principal Rachel Kane shares that enthusiasm. “The Minimester program provides an opportunity for experiential learning that enables students and teachers who would normally not work together to relate in a meaningful way,” says Kane. “And Minimester gives students an opportunity to explore an area of particular interest to them that they might never get exposure to otherwise.”
It also exposes the teachers to new insights. For Bright, the views of New York City at night had particular resonance: “The city shone like a diamond, with all the lights twinkling everywhere, just like our students’ inner lights.”
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